Thought Provoking, But Could Have Used More Documentation. This is a very thought provoking book that looks at lies and how we deceive both ourselves and others, using scams from prehistory all the way through the 2010s. In its examinations of how we deceive both ourselves and each other, it seems to this reader to be very well reasoned, very well thought out, and very well written. Lots of education, a fair degree of humor, and (warning to those “sensitive” to it), a few F-bombs to boot. Indeed, the one main weakness here is the dearth of its bibliography – coming it at just 6% ish of the text rather than the more common 25-30% of well-documented nonfiction texts. Also, the cover – I don’t believe Washington and the (very likely apocryphal, and thus… a lie) story of his childhood cherry tree is ever mentioned in the text. So the cover lies… which may be the point. 😉 Overall a superb book, but the bibliography issue knocks it down a star. Very much recommended.
Ironic, But Explaining That Is Spoilery. My singular biggest takeaway from this book is just how *HIGHLY* ironic it turns out to be. But explaining that involves discussing specifics of the ending of the book, and thus isn’t something I’m going to do in a review. Just not my style. At all.
What I *can* tell you about this book is that for the most part, you’ve got your expected Catherine McKenzie level mystery here. By which I mean there will be all kinds of twists and turns. Secrets all over the place – including some revealed only in the final pages. Solid pacing. A compelling introduction. And a general sense after reading it of “WOW”/ “WTF”. If you’re looking for that kind of book, I’ve yet to be let down with anything I’ve read from this author… including this very book. Very much recommended.
Solid Slow Burn Second Chance Finding Yourself Prodigal Son Story. Think I got enough tropes in that title? 😉 But seriously, this was the second book in Oliveras’ hyper-sensual stories of established adults finding love in the Florida Keys (Key West, specifically) while being bound by their Cuban immigrant parents and siblings. Here, we get the sister of our male lead from Book 1 (Island Affair) and the boy we already know she let go a decade ago from that story. Now, we get a lot more details of what happened according to each of them – and they don’t exactly remember things the same way. Oliveras executes this dynamic well, with having the meddling mothers (seemingly a commonality among *many* cultures, let’s face it 😉 ) conniving to get the two together when the now-man finds himself stranded at home with a shattered leg. As they help each other with their respective issues in their current lives, old wounds get reexamined, sparks begin to fly, etc etc etc… this *is* a romance novel, y’all. That alone tells you where this thing is going. 🙂
But Oliveras also executes the Prodigal Son angle particularly well, at least from the son’s side. Which I know at least a bit about, having lived my adult life hundreds of miles away from my own parents. (Somewhat interestingly as it relates to this book, while Alejandro grew up in Key West and fled to Atlanta as an adult, this reviewer grew up outside of Atlanta and currently finds himself in Florida – Jacksonville – in what will this year become the longest single place he’s stayed since leaving Atlanta. :D) To be clear, I don’t have *exactly* the same issues Ale does – my dad (and entire immediate family) and I actually get along great. But I know the general feelings and disappointments pretty damn well, well enough to truly sing Oliveras’ praises on this particular storyline.
Finally, to address one criticism that seems common in the lower starred reviews: saying something in Spanish and then explaining it in English: I’m a native American that grew up in land still literally scarred by the American Civil War. While I took a few Spanish classes in high school, I was never even truly conversant, much less fluent. But I’ve studied a lot about a lot, and it is my understanding that such mixtures of languages are common in second generation Americans, as both Annamaria and Alejandro are here. Further, from a “real world” perspective of trying to sell as many copies of a book as possible, English is the most commonly spoken language in the world, for better or for worse. While Spanish is frequent and indeed dominant in certain regions, even many in those regions *also* speak English to some degree or another. And in most of the globe, more people are more familiar with English than Spanish. These are also simple, stone cold, undeniable *facts* – whether or not you like them or the reason they came to be. Thus, from a *business* side, explaining the Spanish in English – and in particular the way Oliveras does it in this series, more as a natural storytelling technique than a “Habla Espanol?” “Do you speak Spanish?” style common in at least some books I’ve read over the years, it makes complete sense. And for this reader that barely knows Spanish at all – the above sentence was a decent part of what I can easily recall, though there is likely a fair amount beyond that that I could comprehend in a situation where I’m surrounded by the language – it is helpful, appreciated, and *necessary*, as there would be large segments of the tale that would be completely unintelligible without the translation. Indeed, from a business side Oliveras’ only other real options would be to 1) limit herself to only Spanish speakers and thus lose overall sales or 2) eliminate the Spanish completely and lose at least a fair degree of the authenticity she really excels in bringing out here.
And as others have noted, this reader too is hoping that the one female character introduced late in the book is truly the fit for the one remaining single Navarro sibling – and that we get to read that tale as well. Given the year spacing between Island Affair and this book, perhaps this time 2022? Until then…
Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a poetic and in depth examination of the modern day issues of living in, on, and around the Mississippi River that would do Samuel Clemens justice. This week, we’re looking at Holding Back The River by Tyler J Kelley.
You’ve Heard Of The Imitation Game. Meet The Ultimatum Game. McCarthy-Jones does a phenomenal job in this text of analyzing what exactly spite – which he defines as a behavior that harms both oneself and the other – is, why it is seemingly necessary for human advancement, how it seems to have come to be, and even some of the biological bases of the behavior. In the process, he gives some startling and many times counter-intuitive insights on how exactly spite manifests, often using a tool developed in the 1970s called The Ultimatum Game as the basis of the science. Both a fascinating and disturbing book, this could potentially provide saavy operators yet more ways to control the masses in ways that most wouldn’t even realize they are being controlled – and yet by exposing these methods to the masses in question, gives us ever more effective tools to question the propaganda we are so incessantly bombarded with through so many modern communication channels. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a book all about the history and development of an issue that was at the forefront of our minds one year ago during the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020. This week we’re looking at Pipe Dreams by Chelsea Wald.
Thought Provoking and Informative. I consider myself a well read guy, a guy that has thought through a lot of problems and who generally knows a lot about a lot. Admittedly, I did *not* know much about toilets and related plumbing, though I had read bits and pieces in other books. (Such as a more in-depth look at John Snow and his work during the 19th century London cholera outbreak in Dierdre Mask’s The Address Book.) But I had never read up on the general history of toilets – apparently because there are scant details about historical toileting beyond the last couple of hundred years or so – much less the bleeding edge issues and technologies of this field. And that is exactly what Wald provides here, a look at everything from the history to almost to-the-day bleeding edge issues, including the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Very well written and mostly reasonably documented (about 15% or so is bibliography), this truly is a fascinating read. Very much recommended.
Amazing Social Examination While Telling Solid Story. I gotta admit, when I first heard about this story featuring “a teen party with a tragic outcome”, I was a bit scared that Beck was about to go preachy. More than a bit, if I’m being perfectly honest. But I’ve come to truly appreciate her strength as a storyteller, and I knew that no matter how preachy she may have gotten, it was going to be a truly excellent story that allowed her to do it.
And yall: She didn’t get preachy. At all. Instead, what we get is a truly balanced, truly nuanced look at how even local politics and tragedies can tear even decades long confidante level friendships to shreds. What we get is two very realistic approaches to parenting – I’ve seen both even within my own family. What we get is two mothers fighting for their sons who happen to be on opposite sides of both the local political issue and the tragedy. And we see in depth the love and devotion each mother has to her son – and what each is willing to do to try to help.
Beck’s older books – romances – were still excellent stories, even if constrained by that particular genre’s (some would argue obsessive and insane) rules. Now unconstrained by those rules and able to tell exactly the story she wants to tell in exactly the way she wants to tell it, this already strong storyteller shows that she is truly a master of her craft. Very much recommended.
If you’ve read very many of my reviews on WWII historical fiction books at all, you know it is a subject that has long fascinated me due to my own personal family history there – both grandfathers were at the Battle of the Bulge, one got a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions there, the other was in the area (at minimum) when the Americans liberated the first concentration camps on their front of the war. And the dichotomy of what I knew of those two men decades later – one (concentration camp) whose lifespan my own intersected with by 5 weeks, the other who I knew for the last 20 years of his life – has become a long running, simmering thread in my own tale.
And without further ado… the Goodreads review. 🙂
Long Buried Family Secrets Find Closure. Here, we get an interesting spin on this oft-travelled subject and technique. So many books of this genre want to take place primarily in the past with only the occasional jump to the future (ala Titanic), but here Graham sticks remarkably close to alternating every single chapter past and present. The past storyline is, perhaps, a touch more urgent, as it involves hiding a brother and trying to smuggle him out of France in 1941. But the present storyline has more of the “women’s fiction” elements of a woman trying to find herself after the tragic loss of her grandmother soon after the loss of her significant other and business partner… and stumbling across things about her grandmother that had never been known in the family, which leads to her quest and ultimately the resolution of both timelines. Both timelines worked quite well, and it is indeed rare to see a single book blend elements of the two distinct genres together so effectively – which speaks to just how good Graham is. Very much recommended.
Satisfying (Seeming?) Conclusion. After Bratt rushed things a bit with Book 2 of this series (No Place Too Far), combining elements that I felt – and mentioned both to the author and in the review – could better be done in multiple books, here she takes the same approach. Yet here, the story is more condensed generally, taking place over just a week or so and having two concurrent storylines that work quite a bit better as a pairing. In one, Jules, the true matriarch of this series, has a medical issue that sidelines her yet gives her a compelling storyline. In the other, and happening concurrently, her youngest daughter has gone missing – and Jonah, the PTSD-suffering Iraq veteran who decades earlier already lost one sister (see Book 1 – True To Me) has to find her.
As with much of this series, it is loosely based on Bratt’s own daughter’s adventures living in Hawaii – the author’s note at the end actually notes a much more perilous event that made the news there in the last few years as the inspiration for the missing daughter piece.
And as with Bratt’s immediately prior book to this series, Dancing With The Sun, this book is essentially a love song to one of her own daughters, and another cry of just how strong her love for that daughter is.
Bratt’s writing, at least in the time I’ve known it, has always been about putting her real world heart on her sleeve and then pouring it into “paper”, while creating worlds that allows her to explore and convey the emotions she is feeling at any moment. It makes her personally vulnerable – but also makes for some of the most compelling reading of the last few years. This story is ultimately no different here. Read it because it is truly an excellent book, one where she took the (light) criticism from its predecessor and largely corrected. Knowing a bit of the backstory – and I haven’t noted anything here beyond that which she has said (IIRC, in much more detail) publicly – only makes it that much richer.
Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a stunning tale set in a (now) very famous time and place that is so vivid that you’ll be looking up fictional characters to see if they were real. This week we’re looking at The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.
As always, the Goodreads review:
Wow. All the feels. I make no secret that Alan Turing is a personal hero. He is *very* much suspected of being a fellow Autistic, and because of his brilliance I was able to follow in his footsteps to rise myself out of being a trailer park kid into a career that has already made me far more successful than I ever dared imagine. So when a book is set at Bletchley Park during World War II – where Turing built the first physical “Turing Machines” after having theorized them before the war – … it gets my attention.
And while Turing himself (along with a handful of other particularly significant real-world people of the era) *does* appear in the book – and even helps in the endgame itself – this book is NOT about him. Instead, this is effectively a book about the *other* people there at Bletchley during the period and what *they* went through… while spinning a tight tale of personal and national betrayals as a solid fiction story should. 🙂 We see the era and the place through three very different eyes – a likely (female) Autistic (though Quinn never uses that word to describe the character, as it wouldn’t be period-authentic) who is over-protected by her very religious parents (gee, where does *that* feel familiar? 😉 ), a poor, down on her luck girl from the “wrong side of the tracks” just trying to get by and become better than her birth (again, where does this seem familiar? :D), and a well-connected socialite who wants to prove that she is more than just her birth. And we see how friendship and even family can grow between such disparate people. Truly an outstanding work that hooks you from Chapter 1 and keeps you reading through the final words… even though those words come over 650 pages later! Oh, and if you’re familiar with The Imitation Game (the 2014 movie focusing on Turing’s work at BP)… you may just have its theme running through your head when you finish this tale. Very much recommended.